Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Kumbaya Effect

Many times in the opening of a “team building” workshop, I like to ask participants what they expect to happen. Many an extroverted workshop prisoner has said something having to do with Kumbaya as in, “I think we’ll be doing Kumbaya!”

Kumbaya is a popular campfire African-American spiritual song from the 1930s. The song is about compassion, spiritual unity and building community. While I’ve yet to hear a group I’ve facilitated sing it, the theme of Kumbaya does exist and many times comes through.

Closely associated with the expectation of Kumbayah is the group hug. I will admit to seeing participants hugging at the end of a workshop, a sign the seeds of community have sprouted. Appropriate human touch does go up. There is evidence that this has a profound positive affect on teams.

In a recent study, Tactile Communication, Cooperation and Performance: An Ethological Study of the NBA, authored by Michael Kraus, Cassey Huang and Dacher Keltner, printed in Emotion, October 2010, pages 745-748, points out evidence that physical touch improves performance!

Tactile communication, or physical touch, promotes cooperation between people, communicates distinct emotions, soothes in times of stress, and is used to make inferences of warmth and trust. Based on this conceptual analysis, we predicted that in group competition, physical touch would predict increases in both individual and group performance. In an ethological study, we coded the touch behavior of players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) during the 2008-2009 regular season. Consistent with hypotheses, early season touch predicted greater performance for individuals as well as teams later in the season. Additional analyses confirmed that touch predicted improved performance even after accounting for player status, preseason expectations, and early season performance. Moreover, coded cooperative behaviors between teammates explained the association between touch and team performance. Discussion focused on the contributions touch makes to cooperative groups and the potential implications for other group settings.

Touch is an important part of any experiential learning lab where participants are blindfolded like Vision Walk, Blind Man in a Black Room, Trust Walk, Blind Cube and Blind Square. Touch is important in spotting and keeping each other safe in experiential learning labs like Trust Leans, Trust Falls, Wild Woozy, Group Wall and Spider Web. A discussion about touch may come up in the debrief with questions around touch back in the workplace, the organization and in general.

I went back to review the video FISH! FISH! is the popular short film about the Pike Place Fish Market that went from being mediocre fish market to world class using four basic principles. I noticed a lot of touching in the video not just among team members but also with customers. Perhaps touch is the unwritten, unspoken, magical fifth principle of the FISH! Philosophy!

How do you want to be experienced in your touch?

How do others experience your touch?

Touch maybe your untapped strategic initiative!